Thursday, March 21, 2013

Gunfight Four

'Tis the season to be surprised.
Benedict XVI resigned as Pope, the College of Cardinals elected as his successor, for the first time in history, someone not from a European see, and your humble scribe, who also putters about in the land of music from time to time, has just decided not to try to publish a radical series of scale and study texts for the piano.That is, not in the usual form, which requires pages full of staff lines covered with musical notes.
And not only have I made the decision, but my advisors all cheerfully agree with me, especially my senior agent, who was always such a supporter of the idea that she was vehemently concerned, from time to time as I came up with yet another "brilliant idea", of it falling into the wrong hands. Jill was temporarily returned to her old position of chairman of the board, heard my new thoughts with a approval, and then was allowed to resign again.
(One wonders if the latest version of the Vatican will have to make a similar arrangement for Benedict. Already there are appearing signs of some interesting thought patterns that are unlikely to gain universal approval from the Mystical Body of Christ. There are absolutely no Biblical references to Christ ever washing women's feet, for example.)
I was actually warned that my decision was coming up a few weeks ago, during a lesson with Tim McDaniel, but the terms of the warning, although clearly Divine in their style, were phrased mysteriously, and not understood until this week, possibly awaiting  the new Pope's declared preference for thinking about the poor. The old plans obviously concerned making money, and possibly a great deal of it, but the new plan plainly does not. The information will continue to flow, and possibly with a greater rapidity, but you won't be able to buy it in a music store, you will have to read it in these blogs.
At 77, who needs lots of money? whereas at all ages, the world, including most Catholics, is spiritually illiterate and in very bad need of upgrading its reading habits.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Gunfight Three

Oh, my, but didn't I break off the last post at just the right time. The very next day, just at "High Noon", to carry on with symbols and names from the Western genre - that is, high noon our time, which was eight p.m. in Italy - we beheld our new Pope, Francis of Argentina, standing on and talking from the balcony of Saint Peter's. It was instantly plain that he is a very dear man, which was good for the heart, and then as the initial biographical details poured forth from the researches of the journalists, both secular and Catholic, that his election was as rich a source of symbols and hope for this writer as could be asked for. For some months I've had a sense that the angels - or was it just the Trinity, as often the angels are in the dark about the future just as much as we are? - were sending chuckles in my direction, due to my natural inability to behold the future, and thus not be able to see all that clearly just what they had up their sleeves. Yet there was certainly a lot of interesting inspiration going on in previous months, and now I can see where it was leading.
Yes, Virginia, there are cowboys in Argentina, vaqueros, or gauchos, and all these images and memories I've been moved to drum up have been a very good foundation indeed for the job ahead. I will be surprised in the current title doesn't stick around for a while.
I even used to sing a hit parade song, in the 50's, "The Bandit of Brazil", all about a bold vaquero, who when he'd shoot, would shoot to kill. I recall being especially pleased that I could figure out the chords on my own, and did not have to resort to a book. I then had no experience of buying sheet music.
They say that amongst Francis' many virtues and interests there exists a passion for literature, therefore an ability to deal with symbols. Should he get around to reading my scribbles, therefore, he's well equipped to take hold of their meaning, unless I happen to wander too far into the upper mansions of the spiritual life without his having been prepared by God's more unusual graces. I have little idea so far of the new Pope's knowledge of the mystics. The journalistas, while interesting and occasionally informative, have so far been so consumed by mere politics - as they see them - that they haven't got around to reporting on his relationship with the Spanish masters of the spiritual life, and so, as usual, are possibly missing some of the most significant stories.
But I have heard - from Marianne, who monitors the news services of the Net much more than I do - that he has used the phrase "Mystical Body of Christ" already, and my soul took yet another little leap upward as it heard about it. As a Jesuit, he is also familiar with the concept of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and that is a good thing too, not only in itself but in the face of so many journalists, and not just secular journalists, who are basically Jansenistic in so much of their thinking. And incredibly unresearched about Benedict's vital role in dealing with the sexual abuse issue, thus almost obliterating their own unquestionable value in helping with this problem, simply by reporting it, in the early days of the clean-up.
Would it help if the Church were to give a formal thank you to the secular press for those first encounters with the horrors of fact and clerical negligence in dealing with it? Certainly the Church was doing nothing about the problem on its own. Had it been facing into it according to the will of Christ, the infamous Father John Monaghan of Nelson would have been arrested a quarter century earlier than 1988. Only Cardinal Ratzinger put into place the system that acts now as it should have been able to act then.
But, as one always has to admit, sadly, not only the world, but the Church and those who pretend to be some quasi-religious organization pretending to be the Church, are all punished, eventually, for ignoring perfection and the spiritual life, which means ignoring what the Bible actually says. It can be no other way. God has a contract with us, by which he is held to do everything He can to get us into heaven. If he could not go back to heaven without suffering, how can mankind expect to get there without a bruise or two, especially when it spends so much energy refusing to study the rules?
But this just in. Marianne told me an hour ago that it has been reported that Francis does know a little at least of the spiritual life from an experience in his youth.
Perhaps that was why, to my eyes, the expectant crowd in Saint Peter's Square, awaiting the sight of the man for whom the white smoke had flown, looked more like the happy portion of humanity at the Last Judgement than any crowd I've ever seen.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Gunfight Two

To tell the simple truth, I don't think the papal election was very much in  my mind when I began the Circle X post. I've been puttering at it for so long that it quite possibly started rolling even before I heard that Benedict was resigning. (I don't like that word "abdicate", because of its association with the unfortunate Edward VIII, a man with few of Benedict's virtues, and certainly none of his affection for prayer, service, and scripture scholarship. Given Benedict's undoubted spiritual status at present, and the utter quality of his life in the Church, coupled with God's ordinary preference for contemplation over action, it would be no surprise to discover in heaven that our beloved Bavarian will have accomplished even more, in the eyes of God, as a contemplative than he has as Prefect and Pope.)
Where I was really headed had to do with music, or rather the methods of teaching it, which I had no doubt was going to involve me in a shoot out of massive proportions. The election conclave will be interesting, and it would be surprising to hear that no sparks flew, but it will all be much more mannerly conducted than the process of returning music education to common sense, unless I am greatly - and gratefully - surprised. The establishment, and ignorance, will be reluctant to give up its grip. I know about at least the second because of my own fondness for performance rather than actually understanding what's underneath it all.
Given that I am already at work at Mr Cameron's Conservatory, many chapters well set on the east shore of Vancouver Island, why this sudden shift to the Cariboo Chilcotin, why this obvious sudden  reliance on a symbol not only reader, but also the author, never heard of before? In my short time in the Chilcotin I never got around to learning that the Bracewell calves had a Circle X singed into their compliant little rumps.
There are at least two answers, the first and simplest being that it is not at all a sudden shift, for from the first chapters of Contemplatives it is obvious that the three young men and their survey crew are headed for that part of the world, and it is equally obvious that that book has as much to do with music as it has with literature, both ordinary and that which has to do with mysticism. And yet the second answer must admit of a huge surprise, to me, because of the creation of a new, deliberately functional, character, in spite of there being already at least two of these in Conservatory. Deirdre and Maggie are plainly young students being used as vehicles for the dissemination of theoretical information about the keyboard, although they are also very alive individuals to their creator. Why do they need supplementation?
I've been disturbed about this. Every author knows at least a little history of feeding himself red herrings. Blind leads. Inspirations that eventually lead nowhere. Or at least have to be laid aside for a much later date. All three of my young male troika are good examples of that last rule. The plot so far has many difficulties, starting with even the possibility of it being able to happen, given the degree of culture clash between whites and natives, even in the Chilcotin, where the history of co-operation and mutual esteem is quite good, barring the nineteenth century beginnings with the Alexis War.
I've spent some weeks on this, following the recent months of reading a number of great tales from the Cariboo, and I only recently came to peace by being able to make a uniquely contemplative decision. As John of the Cross says, one thought of a man is worth more than all the known universe, so as I am a man with a thought, that goes on and on as a regular meditation, I don't have to write a story about it in order for it have some effect. In his own way, God will find an employment for the meditation, and its assorted images, with or without a written narrative.
The central image of the picture is a native girl, I think around eleven or so, who exhibits an interest in the piano, especially after she sees and hears Jacob Cameron doing all sorts of things on the Circle X keyboard without in any way being under the influence of a written text. Her family are working in the area, as the native people regularly did for the white ranchers, especially at haying time. ( I knew nothing about this arrangement, years ago, when I was suddenly moved to try to write a short story set in the area.) In the sequel to Contemplatives, Jacob has already given some vocal instruction to a daughter from the ranch, summoned home from high school in Williams Lake for just that reason, but the native lassie was not then a factor; for one reason, because I was further along in researching  vocal education than I was in keyboard instruction. The vocalist is not required to produce meaningful harmonies out of a single mouth. One tongue is by no means ten fingers.
Nor does eight divided neatly into ten, leaving nothing left over. Quite precisely, piano harmony theory as it has been presented by the music publishing industry is chock full of initially annoying, confusing, depressing, contradictions. We are creatures of structure, of recognizable and reliable patterns, even to the exclusion of reason and common sense, so much so that we are taken in by all sorts of music methods, not just for the keyboard, and make a murky sort of progress much more by uncritical memory than by the freeing, creative, understanding with which the Creator originally intended that music should be studied. We are encouraged to charge at music "literature"just as in second rate fitness centres work-out hopefuls are encouraged to charge at weight quotas. Something is accomplished, for a time, and then the process falls by  the wayside, for so many, because of a discontent that is the logical result of failing to get to the core of the matter, where genuine understanding and real pleasure go hand in hand.
Those bound to be professionals or very good amateurs, simply by the natural fact that music is what they love and do best, somehow muddle through. This is because alone among all the arts music is not itself symbolic, like a painting, or the collection of tiny letters that make up a story, it is real. The theory is intentional, but the music itself is real. The student can thus put the paper theory away from him and respond to the reality of sound, the very real dimensions and structure of his instrument, and the even more real quantity, mass, and skill of his organs. In the case of the keyboard, he eventually sorts out his ten fingers. Or, more realistically, his eight fingers, with their somewhat limited lateral motion in relation to each other, and his two thumbs, which can wander all over the place.
But even among the professionals, I have to wonder at the degree of analytical understanding amidst their undoubted performance skills. Their accomplishment is primarily by way of memory. The composer wrote down what he wanted to be played, and they imitate the printed structure, with a few degrees of personal interpretation thrown in, usually in terms of pace and feeling. The basic structure, that is, the intervals between the notes, they leave as penned. Jazz is freer, of course, but many a jazz performance seems to follow a fixed text.
Now, what the native girl hears is not really a performance in the usual sense of the word. Jacob is not playing a known composition, but simply an exercise, or series of exercises, that follow a definite numerical pattern. That is, he is doing the very traditional thing of playing scales and arpeggios, but these scales and arpeggios are all in harmonic form, freely including both major and minor within one sketch, and utilizing however much of the keyboard dimension that he feels like playing at the moment. Thus there is a strong element of inspiration present, utterly lacking in the necessary confinement and limitation of a specific tune, and he can change time signatures as he feels so moved.
There is also perhaps an even stronger element of identity of structure, each more or less unique to the individual key or mode, although this appears more obviously in the left hand than in the right. The right hand is comprised of thirds and fourth only, in a plainly discernible sequence, while the left uses fifths as well as thirds and fourths (sixths where minor intervals within the major key are included) and these patterns can vary from one key or mode to another simply because of the plain demands of pleasant and agreeable sound.
Obviously. the usual plans of the usual scale books have been quite overturned, if not completely ignored, and the traditional mindset with its trouble-making pattern habits thoroughly rejected. All of this leads to a very pleasant combination of utter freedom and complete control, with no reliance on any external guidance or unwanted pressure. The student simply proceeds from his or her own internal interest, his or her own creation and solution of the problems to be solved in the understanding and mastery of numerically identified intervals, or pairs of notes, in each hand, which when put together with both hands create triads, therefore a full harmony and the habitual four voice structure of a piano or organ text.
Also, especially in the case of myself, a singer, the free swinging nature of the golden scale provides a most organic accompaniment, or even a resounding lieder type keyboard support and partnership to the fifth voice, that of the singer/player, and, if relevant, to the others in the room or building joining in. In fact for the last few days, especially as I putter at the numbers and the solfa among the pentachord that lies between great C and the fifth above, I've had so much freedom, quiet resonance, and support rather than resistance from the singer's Muse that with the conclave nicely past the black smoke of its first vote I was even moved to wonder if this was a sign of the new Pope shutting down on the sort of music it is impossible for me to give voice to.
This sounds like a good place to take a post break, as I'm still a long ways from making a conclusion out of all the symbols floating so interestingly out of the image of the Circle X ranch.